School may be out for summer, but lunch is still served: At nine locations around Rutland City, anyone between the ages of 5 and 18 is eligible for a free meal.
“We’re starting off with about 100 meals, and the more children (who) come the more will be distributed,” said Barry Meehan, founder and president of Gabriel’s Children, an organization partnering with Rutland City Public Schools and BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont to provide the food.
In the inaugural three days of the “Bridging the Gap Summer Meals” event, 106 meals were served throughout Rutland County, with Rutland Free Library receiving a backup supply to keep up with demand Tuesday, said Randal Smathers, library director.
“They’re mostly grade-school kids who would otherwise be over at Rutland Middle School and Rutland Intermediate,” said BROC Community Action in Southwestern Vermont CEO Tom Donahue. “It’s amazing how many kids are here at 10 (when it opens).”
The initiative started as a collaboration between BROC and local organization Gabriel’s Children, which provided homemade soups to homeless populations living in hotels this past winter.
“We made 5,000 bowls of soup for the people in the hotels,” said Barry Meehan, founder and president of Gabriel’s Children.
Meg Hanna, Community Food Shelf coordinator for BROC, worried about where students would find their food now that school was closed, so organizers isolated four locations around the city where anyone age 5 to 18 could go and get a sandwich, some fruit and milk, or, on Fridays, pizza.
But the collaboration would never have taken shape had Rutland City Public Schools not stepped in, Donahue said. Superintendent Adam Taylor used USDA grant reimbursement to provide the meals, which would be created in the kitchen at Rutland High School, so the burden didn’t fall on Rutland taxpayers.
Taylor did one better: Every school cafeteria in Rutland County will be open for the summer, giving children an additional five places to find free breakfast beginning at 8 a.m. in White Memorial Park, at Rutland Northeast Elementary School and Rutland Northwest Elementary School, and starting at 8:30 at Rutland Intermediate and Middle School, and Rutland High School.
Daily breakfast specials will include cinnamon rolls, bagels with cream cheese, cereals and fresh muffins, according to a flier from BROC.
Lunch is served at all of the schools beginning at 11:30 a.m., White Memorial Park starting at noon, BROC at 10 a.m., Rutland Free Library and by Trinity Church in Baxter Street Park at 11 a.m., and at the United Methodist Church on Strongs Avenue beginning at 12:30 p.m., Meehan said.
Daily specials for lunch will include ham, salami and mozzarella sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly, chicken clubs and chicken Caesar salad wraps, each with fruit and milk, and occasionally Sun Chips, according to an online menu. The school locations and community sites will be open every weekday until school resumes except for a few specific dates when the community sites will each be closed, the online flier said.
Students can snack and read at the library, or at BROC, the children will find a child-friendly room with balloons, cartoons and games, where the kids — who often come with their parents or grandparents — can find a fresh meal.
“It becomes neighborhood oriented,” Donahue said. “It’s convenient, walkable and realistic, and the child doesn’t have to walk across town. Kids can eat in their own neighborhoods. ... If it were more difficult or cumbersome, I don’t think it would work out.”
Though Taylor could not be reached for comment, Donahue credited him with the success of the program for meeting the demand of Rutland City school children.
“This is right in line with his philosophy,” Donahue said. “Adam’s concern this winter for kids who, during snow days, out of concern for kids who didn’t have anything to eat.”
The program is currently looking for volunteers to drive, volunteer at a site and to lead the site, Donahue said.
MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott signed a single-use plastic bag ban into law Monday that bans plastic bags at the point of sale in stores across the state. The law also prohibits take-out and food containers made of expanded polystyrene foam — often incorrectly called styrofoam — and requires restaurants to only provide straws upon request.
Mary Cohen, the executive director of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, feels the law is reasonable and hopes it will have a positive environmental impact.
“We need to take care of our environment, and keeping harmful plastics out of our waterways can only be a good thing,” she said. “As a community, we’re going to need to start remembering our reusable bags.”
Cohen said the law is not a complete ban on single-use plastics, which she said would make it easier to implement next July. The legislation provides some exceptions including for dry cleaner bags and smaller plastic bags for vegetables at grocery stores. Hospitals, nursing homes and hospices are exempt from the straw provision of the law.
The president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association, Erin Sigrist, said while the retail community generally supports the legislation as written, there are a few aspects of the law she feels could use further clarification.
For example, the legislation requires stores to charge 10 cents for paper bags, but does not provide a definition for which size paper bags stores must charge for.
“It’s difficult for small retailers to understand why they have to charge the same amount for two very different bags,” she said. “It has nothing to do with the plastic bag ban and everything to do with regulating retailers and telling them how much they should charge.”
Also, Sigrist said the VRGA will work next year to make it optional for small businesses to charge for paper bags.
However, Sigrist said, a statewide law will be easier for the retail industry than a combination of smaller regulations.
“We have no interest in a patchwork of regulations across the state,” she said. “It’s difficult to manage the different ordinances town by town. We could have 251 different regulations statewide about the kind of bag you can use.”
Local retailers of all sizes voiced support for the law, including big grocery stores such as Hannaford.
“We are supportive of efforts to eliminate single-use bags and to encourage the use of reusable bags,” said Ericka Dodge, an external communications manager at Hannaford.
Dodge added that across the five states where Hannaford operates, many municipalities have already enacted plastic bag bans, and states like Maine and New York also have statewide bans on the way.
“For us it’s just about flipping the switch for a greater number of stores,” she said.
Dodge said Hannaford fully supports the 10-cent charge on paper bags because paper, while biodegradable, still takes energy to produce and transport.
Rutland City Democratic Rep. William Notte said he would have preferred a 5-cent paper bag charge, but that he supported the bill in the House.
Notte manages Phoenix Books in downtown Rutland, which went plastic-free in January 2018.
“For us the transition was very easy. I’ve seen a real shift in customer expectations since the store opened,” he said. “At this point the majority of our customers do not want a bag at all.”
This law came as some cities and towns were already working on similar local ordinances regarding plastic use. In Montpelier, the local government submitted a request to the Legislature this year to include a plastic ban in their municipal charter. However, because a statewide law was in the works, Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson said the State House never took up their charter change request.
“Our plastic bag ban was arguably broader in some ways because there was sort of a catchall there that would have allowed us to regulate other single-use plastics,” Watson said.
However, now that the statewide law has passed, Watson wants to see how it goes before possibly continuing with further local legislation.
“This is going to be a big change not just for Montpelier but for the entire state,” she said. “I think it’s probably wise for us to see how this transition goes.”
Watson also said she is proud of Montpelier’s leadership on the issue.
“It’s a huge win for us as a community,” she said. “Our votes on that charter amendment were helpful in making it more politically acceptable to pass something like this, so I think we had a real hand in making this change for the entire state.”
Seeing a lack of LGBTQ events in the Rutland County area, three drag queens have planned a Youth Pride Prom that will take place Saturday at Merchants Hall.
Tonya Durant, producer of the event and who performs as Anita Cocktail, TJ Wierzbicki, host of the prom and who performs as Amy Leigh Celestial, and Kamryn Eatherton, who performs as Bethadone Clinique, created the first-time event with Durant’s wife, Linda Otto.
Wierzbicki said the Youth Pride Prom grew from the success of the monthly drag shows that have been hosted at Merchants Hall since November.
“We have gotten a really big following with that. They’ve been very big for us and we basically saw that and thought, ‘What else could we use as a platform?’ and play off what we’re doing already. The four of us sat down and thought of different events and the Youth Pride Prom was the first one that came up that all four of us were like, ‘Yeah, that needs to happen.’ Something where we can bring the youth together to be in a space where they feel accepted and feel like they’re not the weird one,” he said.
Durant said organizers of the drag shows didn’t know of anything in the Rutland County area that would serve young LGBTQ community members and their allies among straight youth.
“It’s National Pride Month and you look (at Rutland County) and you don’t see anything here that’s showing it. I know Vermont celebrates it in September, but still there’s nothing here. You don’t see a flag anywhere, you don’t see anyone doing anything. Maybe we can do something about that,” Durant said.
The prom is an all-ages event primarily for people 13 to 18 but the organizers said they will be open to attendees younger than 21. No alcohol will be served.
The prom will include music provided by a disc jockey, a light show, refreshments and two drag shows performed by Durant, Wierzbicki and Eatherton.
“A lot of them are excited about that. They don’t have a chance to go anywhere else to see drag performances,” Durant said.
“Other than ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’” added Eatherton.
Eatherton said the closest drag shows in Vermont are in Burlington and Brattleboro but one show has a minimum age of 18 and another has a minimum age of 21.
Wierzbicki, who was born and raised in Rutland, said it was important for young people to spend time with peers who have similar experience to avoid a “very tragic or very different route.”
“You can find yourself lost and being in such a rural, tiny town, (young people can be) not sure where to go or who to reach out to for these feelings you might not know about or how to act. So when you go to a place where there’s other people and you think, ‘Wow, these people are just like me,’ you feel accepted and safe,” Wierzbicki said.
Durant added that adolescence is already a difficult time.
“It’s hard enough to grow up as it is, going through all the changes as you become older and become a teenager and go through all those changes, never mind when you feel like you’re different in that way. You feel like no one’s there to support you. That makes it even harder,” Durant said.
During the prom, a king and queen, a king and king and a queen and queen will be crowned. Durant said a Pawlet wig shop owner, Ruth Lampi, made and donated six crowns for the kings and queens.
Merchants Hall can only host about 150 people and Durant said most of the tickets are already sold. The organizers promoted the show through social media and fliers posted throughout Rutland. Eatherton said word-of-mouth had also been an important method of getting the word out about the prom.
Eatherton estimated about 80% of those planning to attend were members of the LGBTQ community and the rest were allies of the community.
Wierzbicki said the interest in the prom was an indication that there was a need in the Rutland area for more LGBTQ events.
“We’re hoping this event is kind of a kickoff to more youth events. If this goes well, and right now, we’re thinking it will, definitely looking at more nightly, monthly events to have youth come (and) hang out, dance, see a show. Just be themselves and not be worried about being made fun of or thinking they’re different or whatever,” Wierzbicki said.
The Youth Pride Prom will take place from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $20 for an individual and $30 for a pair.
Durant said the organizers might sell some more tickets through the Merchants Hall Facebook page or by calling Merchants Hall at 342-1803.
The organizers hope the Youth Pride Prom will become an annual event.
“I can’t think of a single rule that would do more to set back the effort to do what we need to do to address the critical threat of climate change.”
Joe Goffman, who helped draft the repealed Clean Power Plan, as the Trump administration eased restrictions on coal-fired power plants in a move it predicted would revitalize America’s sagging coal industry. — A6
Artist Ann McFarren will be celebrated for her 50 years as a working artist with a retrospective show at Chaffee Art Center in Rutland, opening reception 5-8 p.m. Friday. A7
Make Music Day
Make Music Vermont brings music makers of all ages and experience out to the sidewalks, parks, porches and public places of the state on the first day of summer. For locations and information, visit bigheavyworld.com.